‘We’re losing good people:’ Ga. troopers may be getting pay raise, but some say it’s not enough

Channel 2 Action News has reported on staffing issues at police departments across metro Atlanta, and tonight we’re learning Georgia State Patrol is also down dozens of troopers.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne spoke exclusively with a former state trooper about the manpower problem and the impact on our safety.

State Representative Bill Hitchens says a $4,000 salary increase for state law enforcement, $2,000 for all state employees, and $2,000 more for state law enforcement all passed the Georgia House of Representatives Thursday in a budget with only one dissenting vote and will move on to the State Senate.

But, is that enough to keep people safe as they should be, especially if pay is the only issue?

Charles Chapeau said the Georgia State Patrol troopers he represents as President of the Fraternal Order of Police Georgia Trooper Lodge are good at responding to crises, especially on Georgia highways

GSP manpower levels are nearing crisis level and fop facts and figures sheet suggests in April 2022 there were 828 troopers in total. But, in January 2023 that number had dropped to 783.

“We’re losing good people,” Chapeau said.

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Chapeau said Georgia drivers and their passengers benefit from an adequately staffed GSP. It keeps highways safer.

“There are not enough troopers on the highways to help slow people down and help enforce traffic laws,” Chapeau said.

The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety website indicates preliminary crash data in Georgia shows 1,818 motor vehicle traffic fatalities in 2021, a 9% increase from 1,664 roadway fatalities in 2020. A graph suggests that was up from 1,492 in 2019.

When Chapeau was asked if he was short-handed on the road?

“Oh most definitely,” Chapeau answered.

He says the FOP determined that in 1977, 524 troopers were assigned to road patrol, and in 1997, 682. This year, at one point, 497 were assigned to road patrol, fewer than were 45 years ago.

Chapeau says he appreciates the $4,000 salary increase for state law enforcement in the Georgia House of Representatives version of the new budget, on top of $5,000 last year for state employees.

He says Georgia can afford more right now and salary is only part of the picture. Special deployments like crime suppression details in Atlanta and to assist with trouble at the new Atlanta public safety training center site mean troopers are away from home a lot.

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Georgia State Representative Bill Hitchens says as a Georgia state trooper for about 43 years and a former state commissioner of public safety, the salary and manpower information on the FOP handout we sent him appears to be approximately accurate.

“State patrol is not the only one dealing with this, it’s throughout police agencies throughout the country,” Hitchens said.

Chapeau said troopers in metro Atlanta got a 10% salary adjustment.

Hitchens says he believes GSP is doing a good job trying to recruit but competition is stiff for a shrinking pool of qualified applicants.

“We try and make sure that our people are honest, have integrity, and know how to go about doing their job and do it in an effective manner,” Hitchens said.

Chapeau says these are starting salaries for troopers showing Georgia third from the top in 2022 salary but second to last in the percent increase since 2017. He says he believes other states will likely outpace Georgia in increases this year. He also says many metro Atlanta departments already pay much better than GSP

“We show up every time the bell rings. We answer the bell,” Chapeau said.

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A statement from the governor’s office says:

“Georgia will always proudly support law enforcement on all levels. That’s why Gov. Kemp has worked to increase pay for state public safety officers by at least $7,000 in the past two years, alone. This has also helped GSP remain competitive at a time when law enforcement departments across the country have struggled to recruit and retain officers.”

A spokesman said there’s a trooper school graduation on Friday with 33 graduates.

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